Visiting the country of New Zealand was at the top of Cole Hemmah’s bucket list. Just months after graduating from Black Hills State University, Cole was offered a rare opportunity to live and work in the country known for its diverse natural beauty.
Originally from Sturgis, Cole graduated from BHSU in 2018 with a degree in outdoor education. He was working in Grand Junction, Colo., as a tutor when a fellow backpacking guide reached out to him with a job offer.
“She asked if I wanted to work in New Zealand on a ‘Keep New Zealand Beautiful’ environmental project. Of course I said yes,” said Cole.
The project started as a simple idea by Cole’s backpacking friend, Michelle Henry, when she completed an internship with Keep New Zealand Beautiful, a non-profit organization focusing on litter reduction, waste minimization, and recycling initiatives. She received funding for her project, which was a national liter audit program, and recruited Cole to help complete the research.
“The whole point was to determine what New Zealanders were littering and where. We traveled throughout the whole country in VW bus for two months,” said Cole.
In addition to quickly learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road, Cole said their research team would pick up garbage in two towns per day. At the end of each day, they typically had 10 bags of garbage which they then sorted into categories such as glass and plastic. They determined trends based on what was littered in commercial, industrial, and residential areas of New Zealand.
The team did not have much time for exploring, but Cole said they hiked whenever they had the chance.
“The south island of New Zealand is beautiful. There are tiny towns every half-hour on the highway on the mainland. We traveled through backroads, tropical jungles, and wide stretches of national land,” he said.
After completing their research, Cole returned to the U.S. to work on an organic farm and is now back in Grand Junction where he continues his tutoring work with elementary students. He plans to begin working with a wilderness therapy program in Utah next month.
Cole said the outdoor education program at BHSU was the perfect fit for him when he transferred in from another school in South Dakota.
“When I heard about the BHSU outdoor ed program from Dr. Jane Klug, dean of students at BHSU, who was the parent of a camper I worked with at Outlaw Ranch, it was an obvious switch for me. Outdoor education was exactly what I wanted to do,” said Cole.
Dr. Chris McCart, associate professor of outdoor education at BHSU, role-modeled an organized approach to education that Cole said he continues to utilize in his work today.
“Dr. McCart is a consummate teacher who is able to mix teaching with outdoor skills,” said Cole. “Going to BHSU and the people I met has opened up 10 times as many doors.”